Elite Theory

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

John D Rockefeller, 1885

Concept description

Wikipedia summarizes elite theory, a key component of class theory, as a theory that claims “a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power – and this power is independent of democratic elections.”

The theory holds that

“Through positions in corporations or on corporate boards, and influence over policy-planning networks through financial support of foundations or positions with think tanks or policy-discussion groups, members of the “elite” exert significant power over corporate and government decisions.”

In the introduction of her 2012 book, The Role of Elites in Economic Development, Alisa DiCaprio (reference below) explains the channels elite power is exercised through:

“Political influence is another channel through which elites impact economic development. Keynes did not have a particularly powerful official position, but he had a great deal of influence over policy makers. He did not pass laws, but he was able to influence the decision-making processes that allocate political resources within a society. This example illustrates the need to account for the difference between influence and position. Many case studies use official titles or offices to identify members of the elite. However, those who have the ear of policy makers also have an important degree of control over policy outcomes.

“Institutions designed by the elite may promote participation and information flow, or they may simply cement the position of a particular group within the governance structure. The creation of an independent judiciary is one of the basic elements needed to ensure rule of law. The decision to endow the judiciary with powers independent of political influence must be made and maintained by elites. However, to continue this example, the staffing requirements of an independent judiciary may perpetuate the influence of a certain group of elites.”


Wikipedia, Elite theory, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elite_theory, accessed 21 May 2018.

Alisa DiCaprio (2012), Introduction, in The role of elites in economic development: a study prepared for the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER). Edited by By Amsden, Alice H., DiCaprio, Alisa, Robinson, James A.,World Institute for Development Economics Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, at http://books1.scholarsportal.info.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/viewdoc.html?id=/ebooks/ebooks2/oso/2013-01-10/1/9780199659036-Amsden&chapter=acprof-9780199659036-chapter-1, accessed 21 May 2018.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Interests and the Policy Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified 21 March 2018.

Image: Wikipedia, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_D._Rockefeller_1885.jpg, accessed 21 May 2018.